There should be only one: Why do OCU bishops grab churches from each other?

"Hierarchs" in the OCU take away churches from each other. Photo: UOJ

In the OCU, the Kharkiv-Poltava "bishop" accused the Kharkiv "bishop" of church raiding. Let's analyze why “hierarchs” of the OCU are facing intraspecific struggle.

Can we fancy the situation in the UOC when representatives of one ruling bishop seizes parishes from another? Or a similar situation in Serbian, Bulgarian, Polish or some other canonical Church? You should admit it as hardly believable or rather as an absolutely impossible fantastic situation. But in the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, which, according to the Phanar's position, occupies 15th line in the Diptych of Local Churches, this is common and par for the course.

On April 4, the “ruling bishop” of the Kharkiv-Poltava diocese of the OCU Afanasiy Shkurupiy made a bombshell statement on his fb page, in which he accused the “ruling bishop” of the Kharkiv diocese of the OCU Mitrofan Butynsky of raider seizure of the parishes of the Kharkiv deanery.

“Friends, pray! Today, on the week of the Cross, before the Holy Cross, the devil arranged a Sabbath in the parishes of Sokoliv and Tsirkuniv in the Kharkiv region and with the hands of their rectors, Fr. Stanislav Ashtrafyan and Fr. Oleg Kozub, whom I temporarily removed from their office, organized a rebellion with the aim of transferring parishes to another diocese,” wrote Shkurupiy. “This process is led by an experienced director, Bishop Mitrofan. Threats are heard that other parishes of the Kharkiv-Poltava diocese will also be targeted in order to oust Archbishop Afanasiy from the Kharkiv region. Here we are. It is painful and insulting that the development of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine begins with this. Well, we are hoisted by our own petard!"

The conflict between the "ruling bishops" is too serious a thing to bring to the public plane. Besides, a lot indicates that this publication is not just a random case; this issue is comprehensive for the OCU.

 “There can be only one”

Screenshot of the "Highlander" film

Not so long ago the film "Highlander" was very popular in the world. It tells about a certain community of immortals who have been at war with each other from time immemorial. Although some are positioned as "good" and others as "bad", in fact their goals are identical – the highlanders kill each other with swords in order to obtain the vitality and energy of their competitor. Their motto was: "There can be only one." How is this story related to the “bishops” of the OCU? Directly.

As we know, the OCU at the "Unification Council" on December 15, 2018 was formed by a mechanical merger of the UOC-KP and the UAOC. Outwardly, everything looked beautiful and even touching. The propagandists talked about the unification of all Orthodox Christians into a single structure. The reality was completely different. Let's take out the obvious fact that no announced unification with the UOC took place – practically no one moved from there to the new schismatic structure. It's about the relationship between the schismatics.

Patriarch Bartholomew, his propagandists and members of the OCU themselves ardently assure that there are no more schismatics in Ukraine. All of them, with the recognition of Filaret's anathema invalid (and giving the episcopal status to Makariy, who had never been a bishop in the canonical Church), suddenly became "canonical and gracious". Let's not argue with this perverted logic now. Let's reflect on something else – how the members of the OCU began to observe the elementary rules by which the canonical Church has lived for centuries and millennia.

We know that already in early Christian times, the apostles avoided entering areas where other apostles were preaching the gospel, "so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation" (Rom. 15, 20). This principle was enshrined at the first Ecumenical Council, Canon VIII, which decreed that “there may not be two bishops in the city”. In other words, a certain territory is assigned to one bishop only. Apostolic canons and other ordinances of the Church indicate the inadmissibility of violating the boundaries of ecclesiastical areas (dioceses) by bishops or their clergy.

Until 2018, Ukrainian schismatics had two parallel structures – the UOC-KP and the UAOC. Accordingly, each of them had its own “bishop” in the same territory, who had the corresponding territorial name in his title: Bishop of Lviv, Ternopil, Kharkiv, etc. No one bothered about the fact that the "one city – one bishop" maxim was violated inasmuch as the fact that the Church of Christ is one, hence there cannot be several of them in parallel.

On the eve of the “unification council”, Phanar declared all the “bishops” of the UOC-KP and the UAOC as their titular bishops, who are equal to each other. Consequently, there are no more "bishops" of Lviv, Ternopil, Kharkiv, etc. With the formation of a new "church", a new ruling "bishop" had to be elected to each see from the entire "episcopate": one of the two in Lviv, one of the two in Ternopil, one of the two in Kharkiv, etc. Has this ever been done? Of course, not.

After the "unification council", each "ruling bishop" from the former UOC-KP and UAOC returned to their place of ministry and continued to manage their structure as if nothing had happened. Thus, in each major city in the OCU there are currently two "bishops", while in Vynnitsia, where Simeon (Shostatsky) passed from the UOC, there are even three.

Against the background of the complete canonical lawlessness that accompanied the whole farce with the creation of the OCU, the fact of the duplication of the “ruling bishops” did not bother anyone. Then, with the support of Poroshenko's government, the churches of the UOC were seized with might and main, and the "hierarchs" of the OCU had no time to squabble among themselves – they had to "process" the parishes of the canonical Church. There was no one to serve there, the seized churches were empty, and the “hierarchs” even had to place advertisements in order to recruit men in distant villages who would agree to be priests with the follow-up professional training.

But even then, conflicts occurred in the same territory between the "ruling bishops" of the OCU, as it was, for example, in Volyn, when the UOC temple in Antonivka, which had been "transferred" to the OCU under the wing of Gabriel Krizina (formerly the UAOC), was re-registered to join the structure of Mikhail Zinkevich.

In June 2019, Filaret, who decided to revive his Kyiv Patriarchate, announced the seizure of the UOC-KP temples by representatives of the OCU. A series of skirmishes followed between the "rectors" who decided to be with Dumenko and those who sided with Filaret. For example, while the cleric of the UOC-KP in Rivne, Vitaly Druzyuk, was attending the “Local Council” in Kyiv, his temple was seized by Epiphany's supporters with the help of the “Right Sector”.

What do all these facts say? The essence of schism is the same everywhere – aggressive, raiding and not at all ecclesiastical. As soon as they are trough with "easy prey", i.e. when the authorities assist in the seizure of the temples of the canonical Church, these people will start to devour each other until the strongest remains in one territory, who will grab all the property from weaker competitors. Everything is developing like in the movie "Highlander": "There can only be one."

Filaret's nestlings eat Makariy’s nestlings

Usually no one likes to “wash dirty linen in public”, everyone tries to solve problems quietly and peacefully, so as not to spoil their reputation, which is very, very unfavorable in the OCU. Even before 2018, Filaret tried to "eat" the UAOC, i.e. to attach it to its structure. In 2015, negotiations on unification were held, which, by the way, were attended by representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The negotiations ended in nothing. The main reason for the failure was the disdainful attitude of the Filaret adepts towards their counterpart’s.

And now, when the members of the UOC-KP and the OCU have been in the same structure for 2.5 years, these contradictions have not vanished anywhere. The grouping of the former Kyiv Patriarchate exists separately, the UAOC group – separately. Autocephalous guys are considered a "weak link" and exposed to their “brothers” "biting off" a piece from them at the earliest opportunity.

Shkurupiy’s scandalous publication revealed contradictions, which for the time being they tried to hide in a napkin.

Representatives of the UOC-KP faction in the OCU reproach Shkurupiy for airing his dirty laundry in public and using the "UOJ rhetoric", to which the "hierarch" replies that the situation has gone so far that he can no longer remain silent, since the raiders threaten to take other parishes.

Apparently, it is not only Shkurupiy who cannot remain silent. Representatives of the UAOC are massively complaining about the oppression of their group by the UOC-KP.

“Archimandrite” Nikanor from Dnipro (nickname Mykola Dnipro – Ed.) writes, “Our Dnipropetrovsk-Zaporizhia diocese of the UAOC was not invited to the“ unification ”council, there was not a single representative from it there ... We have been writing letters to Epiphany for 3 years and they are coming back! Everything is being done to be taken over by the local former KP diocese! Where are the rules? Where is the Primate? EVERYTHING is being done to destroy the autocephalous!"

“Priest” Igor Girey writes the same, “We will have the same story in Khmelnytskyi region, they want to take everything and join the former diocese of the Kyiv Patriarchate, which was led by the now late Bishop Anthony Makhota. Why is His Beatitude Epifaniy silent? Former KP members are destroying those parishes that were in the UAOC, and now they want to grab everything for themselves." 

Roman Nakonechny sums up, referring to Shkurupiy: “This is what we were afraid of  – acquisition, it’s not for me to tell you, you feel it on your own skin. It's hard to see it."

What are the conclusions?

  1. The anticipated and hyped "unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy" under the guise of the OCU never took place even among Ukrainian schismatics. In fact, they are divided into former groups that compete and even fight with each other. Moreover, after the split perpetrated by Filaret, centrifugal tendencies within the OCU are only growing.
  2. The structure, which Phanar called "the local church", is unable to comply with even the basic and obvious principles of the existence of the canonical Church. It’d have been much easier for the "bishops" ruling in the same territory to get together and choose one ruling bishop so that they meet the canonical rules at least nominally instead of becoming an object of derision.
  3. Most importantly, the mechanical designation of the schismatics as the Church did not bring any results for their Christian self-consciousness. They still think in terms of business and politics: "all means are good in war" and "the fittest survives." When they seize the churches of the UOC believers, whom they consider to be their sworn enemies (we will not recall the Commandments here), this is more or less clear, but how the raiding of the property of their “fellow-patriot” fits into their worldview is more difficult to grasp. If the OCU continues to exist for some time, then most likely they will eventually comply with the canonical rule "one city - one bishop", but this will happen only because the strong will "devour" the weak.

Unfortunately, we have to state once again – the word "repentance" for the OCU members remains an empty phrase as it has always been – a tale invented by Moscow priests to humiliate them, "real patriots". This is also the case with the ordinary parishioners of the OCU. However, the words with which Christ began his ministry were, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!" (Matthew 4:17). Thus, the Church expects from the schismatics the same as Christ. Will they hear Her?

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